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Urbanism needs to move beyond city boundaries

Our fractured metropolitan regions are the big problem in creating sustainable solutions for climate challenges. High-towered, dense city living is only a small part of the solution, which is to develop "ecological urbanisms."

Suburbs get the biggest slice of the pie.

Suburbs get the biggest slice of the pie.

Seattle will only capture a small share of growth.

Seattle will only capture a small share of growth.

Vancouver, B.C.: effective urban concentration.

Vancouver, B.C.: effective urban concentration.

Editor's Note: The following is adapted from a speech delivered last week to the American Political Science Association, which held its annual meeting in Seattle.

Urbanization is an unstoppable world megatrend. Over the past 60 years, the urbanized areas of the planet have gone from 29 percent in 1950, to half of the world’s population today, and by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban regions.

Scientists describe the large communities of plants and animals that occupy distinct climatic regions on earth as “biomes.” We should think of cities — and by my definition I mean whole networked urban regions — as the newest, rapidly expanding biomes of the earth.

Cities are already responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the world’s energy consumption. Accordingly, climate change cannot be addressed without their transformation through strategic alliances. I'd like to suggest some ways to get on with this project.

A central, compelling question raised by political scientists, economists, planners, and other researchers is that, if cities are the fastest growing systems on earth — and causing resource depletion, species die-off, and declining natural ecosystems of unprecedented scale — how can we manage the way that urbanization is drastically restructuring the ecology of our planet?

Let's start with the United States, already one of the most highly urbanized countries in the world. By 2050 America is expected to grow by 120 million more people, and it is estimated that an 90 percent of Americans will live in cities and metro areas. Most will be located in a handful of vast mega-metro urban regions that cross state and even national boundaries. The growth of these metro regions, some 360 in all, is largely unbounded, not contained in any one political jurisdiction, and unmanaged. 

Urbanist and philosopher Lewis Mumford in his prescient 1956 paper, “The Natural History of Urbanization,” wrote that "the blind forces of urbanization, flowing along the lines of least resistance, show no aptitude for creating an urban and industrial pattern that will be stable, self-sustaining, and self-renewing." 

One reason for these "blind forces" is the pattern of local politics in the United States over the past half century, which has served to amplify the urban–suburban divide rather bridge it. This has impeded the healthy and efficient growth of urban metros.

Yet  most urbanists today see cities (meaning metropolitan regions) increasingly as hubs for innovation, places to experience urban vitality, and an answer to our global economic woes. Cities have an inherent urban advantage and the capacity for progressive and transformative change.

 As Bruce Katz with Brookings Institution says, our U.S. metro regional economies are what will make the U.S. competitive again with other developing nations if we can garner our interdependencies, link up, and  foster economic synergies among metro regions. In fact 82 percent of U.S. gross domestic product is produced in its metro regions.

According to economist Jeb Brugmann, author of Welcome to the Urban Revolution, urban scholars who have analyzed market flows have "discovered that global networks were patterned according to networks of cities." They have concluded that "the growing commerce between cities has created hierarchies between cities that define the new economic order. Cities and their networked systems — not countries or individual corporations — are the main command and control centers of a new world City system."

Brugmann continues: “The primary ecological challenge of the next decades… will be our ability to develop ecological urbanisms, …and [determining] whether the City evolves into a truly functional new ecosystem — a citysystem with stable if not synergistic relationships with natural systems.”

Harvard Economics professor Ed Glaeser, in his recent acclaimed book, Triumph of the City , espouses a different view of environmental policy through city-building. "If you love nature, stay out of it," he declares. Build up, and up and up. Greater density is the goal, and the way to save the planet, he says.

But this is wrong-headed and simplistic. How will towers and more concrete save the planet, when they simultaneously increase human consumption, energy, and enlarging the ecological footprint of cities well beyond their borders? Furthermore, humans cannot separate themselves from nature, survive, and remain healthy. Nor do they want to.

The global challenge of urbanization in the 21st century will not be solved by concentrating people and separating them from nature. Theat creates what Brugmann calls "a parasitic system that disrputs the metabolism of Earth's great green, blue, tan, and white biomes, triggering chaotic ecological collapse."  

Urban forms and zones are neither uniform nor fixed. They can be designed to mimic nature’s efficiencies and productivities. So can buildings that attempt to use nature’s free services in a clean, regenerative way. Whole cities can do the same. And, as we’ve just seen again with the hurricane Irene in the Northeast, another big worry is disaster readiness and resilience. In addition to some of these demographic changes, cities are going to have to get used to responding to more frequent disasters whether from earthquakes, tsunamis, flash floods, bush fires and other severe weather catastrophes related to climate change.

Yet by and large, cities in the U.S. are often handcuffed by state governments through restrictions at every level on land use, regulation, and revenue raising. Outside of major cities, the metro regions — where most people live in North America — fare even worse when it comes to reach of regulatory authority and revenue collection. Very few full service metro or regional governments with any land use control even exist in the U.S. (the exceptions are Portland, Miami Dade County, San Francisco, and  Minneapolis).

For the Western Washington region, home to hundreds of local governments, the jurisdictional boundaries have very little to do with how we live and even where we work, and shop. This is true for most other metro regions in the country. Just think about how often you cross the boundaries of the city or town where you live to go to work, to recreate, or to shop. Three or four times a week, or three or four times a day?

Though we don’t identify as such, most Americans are regional citizens living in highly networked yet seemingly invisible regional citysystems. The Seattle metro region, for example, is a large and multi-faceted area encompassing 5,894 square miles. That is almost the size of New York’s metro area of 6,720 miles but with 15.5 million fewer people. Seattle metro includes 31 cities and towns and dozens of employment centers.

Amando Carbonell, Senior Planning Fellow at Harvard’s Lincoln Land Institute, says:  

We live in regions — territories defined primarily by function and only rarely by jurisdiction. The places where we work, live, shop, recreate, and socialize constitute a territory that seldom corresponds to a single town or city. Regional planning is concerned less with the exercise of jurisdiction and more with the search for new forms of habitation based on a clear commitment to advancing sustainability.

 Even if we do live and work in the same town, the ecological fall out of our day-to-day living patterns will be felt upstream and downstream throughout the region, not to mention the ecological footprint. 

And now my central point:  a regional approach is necessary for managing land use, water, utilities, population growth, and transportation, and ultimately for addressing climate change. 

Take the City of Seattle's audacious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Absent  from the carbon analysis are contributions from external yet  urban-generated sources such as the interstate highways, ferry traffic, and municipal waste hauling — all which extend the carbon footprint well beyond Seattle’s political borders. SeaTac airport, for example, generates  GHG emissions (largely from jet take-offs and landings) of 4,650,000 metric tons, which is nearly 70 percent of Seattle’s total annual output (6.770,000 metric tons).

Who are we fooling? If the goal is to seriously cut carbon emissions and advance urban ecological balance and sustainability, the heavy focus on densifying the urban core of the hub city may be misplaced or way too myopic.

Consider Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, a model of urban densification. Vancouver is leagues ahead of most any other city in North America in  both planning for center city urban density and achieving it, through a Living First strategy for downtown Vancouver and comprehensive regional planning (their Living Region Strategy) for the metro area.

With its impressive forest of dense residential high-rises, Vancouver has one of the densest urban cores in North America. Even so, the Metro Vancouver area, just like most metro areas in the U.S., has outstripped the city of Vancouver’s growth rate by more than four times that of the center city over the last three decades.

Vancouver has achieved a regional compactness twice that of Seattle’s metro area. This has been done through  regional comprehensive planning, strong land use controls, and Metro Vancouver’s urban rapid transit system with 42 miles track over three lines and 47 stations.

But is this the best model to follow? Most North Americans (not that they can’t change) prefer to live in less dense neighborhoods than places like New York city. Or, if they prefer urban density, they may find it difficult to afford. Vancouver, despite its focus on compact growth, is the third most expensive cities in the world to live in (as figured by housing costs measured against median income).

Compared to Vancouver, Seattle feels a lot more suburban with 70 percent of the city’s land area comprised of single family homes on sizable lots of 5,000 square feet or more. The land use code, which protects this low density land form, has hardly been touched in over 30 years.  Maybe that’s why Seattle in 1960 comprised over 60 percent of the metro area population yet today represents less than 17 percent in population. It’s not that people left Seattle, but the region grew up around it. Urban growth in metro regions the United States, by and large has vastly outpaced population growth in hub cities, a few of which have seen sharp declines in population.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the concentrated urban growth emphasis. Cities can address multi-sector issues in ways that counties and unincorporated areas cannot. But the plain fact is most cities today are buried in, and inseparable from, the metro areas they are within. And the typical North American city is too small in area (the city limits of San Francisco and Boston are nearly half the land area of Seattle) — and with marginal impact on the regional urban eco-system

My second point: there is more than one type of “sustainable lifestyle,” and so to solve the climate crisis future growth does not need to corral everyone to live in the center city.

High-towered city living, although it has become increasing popular among empty nesters and those who can afford the views, is not the only sound environmental option. A regional solution can offer a range of lifestyles and community types without compromising, and possibly even improving, urban/regional ecologies. Suburban cities and towns, where most people in the U.S. live, need to be seen as a large parts of the solution, not the whipping boy of the density ubanistas.

Rather than writing off the suburbs, we need strategies to bring the qualities and conveniences of city life to suburban communities. A well planned and functionally efficient region that combines aggressive conservation strategies, good transit systems, and green technologies can offer many types of sustainable lifestyles and affordable housing options to meet American preferences more sustainably and more broadly.

 Says Peter Calthorpe, architect, author, and co-founder of the Congress of New Urbanism, "We now lead regional lives, and our metropolitan form and governance need to reflect the new reality."

There are other compelling reasons, besides accommodating future growth, why regional urban strategies are so desperately needed.

Puget Sound. the second largest marine estuary in the United States, is manifestly the single biggest, most intractable environment challenge facing Washington state today.

The iconic chinook salmon along with 20 other marine animals are endangered, dwindling pods of Orca whales are among the most PCB-contaminated mammals on earth, and entire marine ecosystems are dying off. Millions of pounds of toxic pollution flow into Puget Sound every year, mostly from storm water run-off and combined sewer overflows, carrying deadly poisonous chemicals from urban areas to the sea.

Now here’s the problem: The Puget Sound basin, home to 4.4 million people, is bordered by 90 cities and towns and an unfathomable maze of overlapping jurisdictions and regulatory agencies. They share in common a local economy (Boeing, Microsoft, global container shipping, etc) and networked urban infrastructure (airports, roads, utilities, energy, water, food distribution network, etc.). Yet no one agency controls. As Kathy Fletcher, founder and retiring director of People for Puget Sound, says, " our biggest challenge now is the fragmentation of decision-making and lack of enforcement of existing regulations."  

It’s been over four decades since Sen. Warren G. Magnuson first warned of a looming “environmental catastrophe” facing Puget Sound, meaning oil tankers. Today, it’s not the oil tankers but unmanaged urbanization that is the single biggest contributor to the ill-health of the Sound. What would Glaeser and the build-upward urbanists say about that? Cities of today, regardless of how compact they are, do not contain their hazardous wastes from spilling into and destroying fragile ecosystems. The spread of hard impervious pavement, the proliferation of cars, trucks, and steady increasing vehicle travel (VMT) is, more than any other source, causing the continuous poisoning of Puget Sound and its estuaries that the urbanized areas encompass.

Bill Ruckelshaus, former EPA head and past chair of the Puget Sound Partnership, grew frustrated at the slow pace of clean up efforts and suggested convening regulators and others to come up with a more cost-effective way to improve water quality in urban areas like Seattle and King County. It hasn’t happened. More recently, Ruckelshaus said in response to failing water quality and clean up efforts in the Puget Sound Basin, "Governance is the screaming need here. We need an intervention!”

This makes my Third Point: Puget’s Sound’s failing health is symptomatic not of a collective lack of will, but of our politically fractured urban metropolis . It’s the sydrome known as the tragedy of the commons. Consider this: By 2040, the region is expected to grow by nearly 2 million more people. The decline of Puget Sound will accelerate unless a regional low-impact growth strategy is put in place and enforced across multiple jurisdictional boundaries. The state so far has steadfastly refused to impose necessary regulatory restrictions of polluter fee collections. The marine die-off will continue until there is a Puget Sound-size solution to deal with the enormous problem.

So what can be done about it? Simple. Fill the governance gap. Implementing a bold plan for the future requires coordination and consolidation of local power into a new regional form of governance.

The place to start is recognize the region’s common economic, social, and environmental interests, and by building strategic institutional alliances that  knit metro communities together across jurisdictional boundaries. I'd suggest a Congress of Puget Sound, consisting of democratically elected representatives of municipalities, as a strong, common voice for the region while preserving local independence at the municipal level. 

Rather than be divided through prolonged infighting and turf wars, why not create an institutional mechanism  for intra-local priority-setting and inter-local decision-making that can transform the metropolitan areas such as the  Puget Sound basin into much stronger strategic regions? After all this was the genesis of the European Union on a much larger scale.

Such efforts are beginning to form around the country, to address growing complex needs and the governance gap of metro regions, and as a means for advancing economic, social and environmental progress while preserving sense of place.

Cities in the 21st century are the future, says economist Jeb Brugmann, and the strategic city-region will have the “urban advantage.” The success of cities in tackling global problems will depend on values-driven, transformative urban alliances and progressive strategies that achieve resiliency and greater ecological balance with the planet. Competing interests will need to re-align themselves against chaotic, disorganized, and destructive forces, or face more global crises, ecological disasters, and ultimately sharp economic decline.

Peter Steinbrueck, FAIA, served on the Seattle City Council from 1997-2007. He served on the board of AIA Seattle, and was a founding board member of Futurewise (then 1000 Friends of Washington).


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 6:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I was giving this a lot of thought today, and then I read your article.
I was trying to figure out why north Seattle (north of 130th, or there about) wasn't part of the City of Shoreline.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 9:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Some of this lack of regional focus may come from the lack of actual representation in Seattle. Sure, there are overlapping jurisdictions, but who would actually represent the northernmost part of Seattle in finding a synergistic relationship with the southern part of Shoreline in its relationships with King County Metro and Community Transit?
That could be Bob Fergison at the County, by Seattle City Council is atlarge.
If you go "up" to the state level then you are looking at people with remarkably little influence in inter-local politics. Go even further "up" and you get zero desire by congressional reps to get involved in local politics.

I think destruct representation at the city council level would actually have to happen, making certain people responsible for certain boundaries, and then having those reps on inter-local committees would be a good start to aligning policy and regional solutions. I don't see how this could be a top down thing without getting rid of the atlarge city system.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 9:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Break Seattle city council into 5 sub-regions with 4 at large positions.
NE, NW, SE, SW, and downtown.

The city council interests would be more in line with county and state reps.
Silos by city function can only take policy so far.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Me Baker, the answer to your question is in about 1965 the city of Seattle annexed unincoporated King County between the previous city limits at 85th Street and 145th Street. The city of Shoreline was created in 1995.

orino

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 11:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I wholeheartedly agree that Seattle's city council needs at least some geographic districts; other cities should pursue this as well.

With an all at-large council as we have now, geography-based initiatives are utterly impossible. This not only impacts development issues like Mr. Steinbrueck's topic here but it also limits how much council members need to listen to the micro issues that are nonetheless important to individual neighborhoods. The city council mainly responds to city-wide issues and to money, currently, and that's it.

So, perhaps Mr. Steinbrueck should be working first toward governmental structures like city council reform that would tend to make his ideas even remotely implementable.

smacgry

Posted Sat, Sep 3, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

It may well be true that it would be a nice idea to implement "...a bold plan for the future requires coordination and consolidation of local power into a new regional form of governance," but since it is not going to happen, it migh be best to consider ideas which have a possibility of succeeding.

Calling for regional governance is a call to do nothing and is just another form of environmental theater.

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

From the Article:

" Very few full service metro or regional governments with any land use control even exist in the U.S. (the exceptions are Portland, Miami Dade County, San Francisco, and Minneapolis)." King County? CAO?

Cameron

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Orino, it was earlier than that, and I am aware of the annexation, my question was: why isn't now part of Shoreline. What most people downtown think of what it means to live un Seattle are living a different life than those of us that do not have streetcar/trolley/light rail/sidewalks (not provided as a condition of accepting annexation) multi-modal options. Why don't those people in north Seattle give up their cars, and we will tax those darn cars as a deterrent for owning those cars.... As if we in the other Seattle had viable multi-modal options.
We don't. It's dumb to the context.

Our options for transportation, land use, development, integration into adjoining areas is more in line with where Shoreline is at in its urban development than it, apparently, will ever be in the rest of Seattle's urban development.

Maybe Seattle should annex part of north Seattle to Shoreline.
Maybe what is passing as a downtown leader in urban development is really and island of unsustainable density that is out of context with some if the surrounding areas that are being call "Seattle", and that the representation of those particular interests are not being sufficiently served by the at large downtown city council.

Mr Baker

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 10:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Peter,
In your dialog you didn't mention jobs. Where people live and work has been separated by land use choices that force people to live in one place and travel my energy consuming means to go to work.
I see plenty of upzone cheerleaders talk about "walkable communities" but the discussion rarely involves the integration of walking to jobs that could actually support the housing costs in that area.
Vertical bedroom communities are not much better than the single family homes developers are eager to take over. A coffee shop, nail salon, and a bus stop isn't a walkable community. It's a joke.

Mr Baker

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Peter,

No doubt that regional planning is as important as it is challenging to implement. A few comments:

Instead of trying to create a new regional planning entity from scratch, why not look at expanding the powers of the Puget Sound Regional Council?

Your criticism that urbanists are too focused on big cities feels like a bit of straw man to me. Most urbanists recognize that good urbanism has plenty to offer in small towns and cities.

You note that "the spread of hard impervious pavement, the proliferation of cars, trucks, and steady increasing vehicle travel is, more than any other source, causing the continuous poisoning of Puget Sound," and ask what "Glaeser and the build-upward urbanists" would do about it. The fact is, building up instead of out is the single most effective solution we have to those problems you name. Yes, there needs to be regional planning to make sure our dense urban centers work well together at the regional scale. But if we can't even create dense urban centers to begin with, we're not going to get very far. And to be clear, a dense urban center doesn't require a built environment like Manhattan. For example, it can be a revitalized small city center like what's been started in Burien.

Love the Mumford quote. He was advocating for regional planning as far back as the 1920s:
http://citytank.org/2011/03/17/c200-regions-to-live-in/

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with Bertolet on expanding the PSRC, but agree with Peter on right sizing the inter-local planning.

I'm not seeing work/home integration in a lot of this, just vertical bedroom communities.

Mr Baker

Posted Sun, Sep 4, 4:02 p.m. Inappropriate

The Puget Sound region can best improve and sustain long term environmental and economic health if we think globally, plan regionally, and act locally. Peter is right - only a fraction of this region's jobs and housing can be accommodated in high rises in central cities. A major share must also coalesce along existing highway corridors and emerging rapid transit lines in places like the SR 99 corridor (Swift in Snohomish County and Rapid Ride in King County). The City of Shoreline gets this. Check it out at http://www.shorelinewa.gov/index.aspx?page=180

jtovar

Posted Mon, Sep 5, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

To David Sucher’s skeptical view of forming a regional governance structure- it’s more than just a “nice idea,” it’s clearly necessary if we are, as one networked urban area ever going to tackle the big urban growth problems. The Puget Sound Regional Council, though not a bona fide governance structure, does fairly well as a municipal planning organization, (MPO) and better than most I know of in other states. This is due in part because there is political will to go beyond its minimum federal obligations for funding transportation projects. The Prosperity Partnership formed by PSRC, is but one example of the collective will to form alliances around economic goals. The statewide Growth Management Act (GMA) also provides us with the legal framework for establishing and augmenting tough growth management polices around urban boundaries—a powerful tool few other states have. Building on the PRSC model, it is conceivable a stronger “Congress of Puget Sound” could form around alignment for common interests, particularly economic, for greater inter-jurisdiction cooperation. And it would be a powerful force for advancing Western Washington’s top political interests in the state legislature.

Posted Mon, Sep 5, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Peter, Outstanding, thoughtful writing. A dose of reality for all the " the only good is more, more, density" crowd.

We need regional governance/ planning. We need to start somewhere in the vicinity of Ian McHarg's DESIGN WITH NATURE, and adapt/adopt, pragmatically plan how we can create both built and natural environments that sustain multiple ecosystems, Puget Sound, AND creates new economic opportunities.

We need the PSRC married to the Cascade Land Conservancy, married to METRO, married to Sound Transit and including three Ports (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett) and three County Governments (Snohomish, King and Pierce).

The Current Growth management Act was our first shot at a solution.
We need another bite of the apple.

"There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

Ross Kane
Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Mon, Sep 5, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

we have plenty of governments. As Steinbrueck asserts, some have weak powers due to our 19th century state constitution. but cities have the relevant power of zoning. one legislative agenda: cities and counties could ask the Legislature for the powers they think are lacking.

one policy that would help greatly with land use is variable tolling of all the limited access highways in Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Thurston counties. the Legislature intends to have the Transportation Commission set toll rates, but is quite slow in implementation. The Eyman initiative in in play in 2012. tolling could have two rationales: demand management to optimize flow and revenue. the Legislature has focused on the latter objective, but should make that one secondary. a focus on demand management would allow some mega projects to be smaller and less costly. the state does not have the funds to finish its mega projects or refurbish I-5.

note the city of Vancouver is not served by any limited access highways; Seattle is served by SR-99, I-5, SR-520, I-90, SR-599, and the West Seattle Freeway; I-405 and SR-509 are nearby. This has been a huge driver in our land use. we are building the deep bore with freeway interchanges at the north and south edges of downtown.

some regional governments make poor decisions. please be careful.

eddiew

Posted Tue, Sep 6, 11:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Read "The Regional City" by Peter Calthorpe. In it 3 cities are modelled; Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle which serves as the worst-case example.

PSRC ignored warnings that bypassing Southcenter on the Link LRT route would result in low ridership, but the agency paid heed instead to Seattle interests (hoteliers, boutique retail, fine dining, business/vacationer-types) determined to dominate ALL metropolitan regions. "It'll save "3" minutes travel time from the airport to downtown Seattle," they equivocated. A Link spur to Southcenter & Renton is warranted but likewise ignored. The current Link extension to Federal Way falls far short to another monster parking garage in the middle of nowhere and Link North reaches the glorious football stadium. It's no wonder Link East wallows in a quagmire of controversy.

The regional governance Seattle needs will strive to fulfill the conceits of the opulent. There simply aren't many actually honest transportation & transit engineers in Washington State. Only an idiot or a crook will ignore the nightmarishly horrific risks of the bored tunnel and its murderously egregious street rearrangements. James Corner Fields may not deserve a black eye for the ridiculous waterfront design, but as long as he accepts payment for answering to the opulent, his reputation will suffer.

Wells

Posted Tue, Sep 6, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

@David Sucher -

What we need is regional accountability via the PSRC and its existing related operating bodies, Sound Transit, etc.

I recall specifically proposing this before the economic development committee of the RTA, pre-Sound Transit 1 - Bob Drewel and Dave Earling, specifically.

Mr. Drewel needs to resign, for cause, from his current position as head of the PSRC.

Mr. Earling, most recently of the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Board might well be a keeper.

...and as far as I am concerned, the fix is in, Mr. Steinbrueck is Drewel's replacement.

Posted Tue, Sep 6, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

@Peter Steinbrueck -

Would you have any idea what happened to the urban ecology pioneer Seattleite Bill Carey?

Posted Wed, Sep 7, 6:42 a.m. Inappropriate

I suspect that the prophet of any real regional government around here will not emerge from Seattle.

People beyond King County, and many places within it, will view any Seattle-based effort to make a new real regional government as a self serving power play, with good reason. It is really an effort to extend Seattle-based values beyond city limits.

It might be best to tackle regional challenges with a clear eyed understanding of political realities. A Congress composed of local elected officials is a recipe for turf protection gone wild.

Get real people to create it - people who will listen to the advice of people who live in the entire region - then put it on the ballot.

The people of the region are far more regional than the people elected to protect local turf.

Jan

Posted Wed, Sep 7, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

The PSRC, and Sound Transit, are pretty much exactly that, however the outside of politicians pander to the money in downtown Seattle, not serve their own constituencies - the above posts from me being an example of that.

Personally, I favor electing a single regional transportation Czar with a congress of local electeds as you suggest. The Czar would then be a workable public focus point for current policies.

Posted Wed, Sep 7, 10:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Until we provide mobility for individuals in their cars at the same rate as we provide mobility for the fewest of commuters in buses, light rail and high density walking areas, we are doomed to a poor economic future.

Mobility is the key to economic success.

Posted Wed, Sep 7, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

"But this is wrong-headed and simplistic. How will towers and more concrete save the planet, when they simultaneously increase human consumption, energy, and enlarging the ecological footprint of cities well beyond their borders?"

Not sure where the author's information is coming from, but there is a large body of research which concludes just the opposite. Yes, city residents rely on the resources of the surrounding landscape for sustenance, thus expanding their impact beyond the city limits. But this impact is MUCH less than what it would be if that same population was spread across the inner-, outer-, and ex- urbs.

For instance lets look at stormwater, the number 1 Puget Sound pollutant source. An individual's contribution to stormwater pollution is a function of their "share"of impervious surface (which routes stormwater quickly to sensitive habitats with little processing en route), and their "share" of contamination. The main way we contaminate stormwater is with our cars (leaky oil and heavy metal wear) and with the chemicals we use around the house (car washing surfactants, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.). In a Belltown condo, half the residents don't own cars and none of them have a lawn that they might deiced to fertilize and spray. Take these same residents and move them to Maple Valley and now they all have to have cars to get to work and they all have little patches of grass they need to "maintain". In addition, what was once one condo roof and a street grid is now 150 separate roofs served by miles of cul-de-sacs. The percent impervious surface per resident goes through the roof (snicker).

Recognizing this, stormwater scientists has begun calculating pollutant loading per capita instead of per area. The same theory goes for habitat conservation, energy consumption, etc. I don't think the author has thought this through.

Aslan

Posted Thu, Sep 8, 2:23 p.m. Inappropriate

@Common sense - improvements to transportation are an economic benefit, but like all investments they decline in return the more you invest. The best investment we can make now is to **begin** integrating mass transit with our freeway system, such as combined Bus/Light rail corridor segments like the downtown tunnel.

Taking a step back consider also the declining marginal return of Keynesian expenditures in general - a valid technique but one we've been overusing, over stimulating, for some time - both Democrats AND Republicans (though they spend their 'stimulus' bucks on war).

The biggest thing that we need to do now is STOP making BAD INVESTMENTS, including in people. A simple fact of life is that will be a generational thing. I've had disagreements with Peter, including over the CAP proposal, but it is quite clear that the downtown establishment has FAILED at leading this State. Peter might, or might not, be able to do a better job - irregardless, he has earned a shot at it.

Posted Thu, Sep 8, 8:28 p.m. Inappropriate

irrespective of the article and regardless of grammar, "irregardless" is not a word.

Aslan

Posted Fri, Sep 9, 6:17 p.m. Inappropriate

@ Asian's "...stormwater scientists has begun calculating pollutant loading per capita instead of per area. The same theory goes for habitat conservation, energy consumption, etc. I don't think the author has thought this through."

Thanks for pointing out a practice that itself needs more exposure and thinking through. For example, what if we addressed wildlife populations in the same manner? We don't for good reasons. So why are said scientists claiming special rights for human varieties of "overshoot"?

In the words of Matt Fox in his long ago letter to the Weekly back when Mossback wrote columns there, i.e., "Who Killed Lesser Seattle?"— "If simply maximizing urban densities really prevented suburban sprawl, Manhattan would have prevented New Jersey. It didn't"

Credit goes to Peter for sticking his neck out.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Sep 12, 7:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I am a big fan of Density for Seattle. Of course it has to be implemented with sound logic, but look at places like San Fransisco, Chicago, New York, and particularly London, England. High Density and it works really really well. Right now Seattle is this weird in-between stage.

melz10

Posted Tue, Jul 23, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

This article is clearly begging the question: How would you, as Mayor of Seattle, make progress towards a regional governance strategy? It's obvious that our combination of sales tax apportioning, fragmented governance, and toothless MPO leads to failures of urbanism, but what can you do as a Mayor to improve the situation and outcomes for the region?

jkoteen

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